UN conference hears experts, witnesses, survivors call for global response to genocide

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry declared genocide

And that was that.

I have devoted radio show hours to this topic regularly over the years, more so in the past couple of years and especially these past months. Always feeling, however, that it’s not enough, considering what’s going on in the world of persecution, massacre and genocide of Christians and other religious minorities, especially by ISIS. The terrorist group has also targeted other Muslims. Yet ‘the international community’ seemed not to be doing anything of consequence to stop it.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been a somewhat regular guest on the program and we’ve focused mainly on the latest update on the Genocide Resolution bill he sponsored. Over the months, he reported the bi-partisan bill was gaining greater support but still needed more. Finally, in mid-March, the House unanimously passed it, 393-0.

In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

The State Department initially said Secretary Kerry needed more time to study the situation before making any designation, although the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians presented a preponderance of evidence in their joint report, leading to one conclusion. The KofC launched an ad and a campaign to spread awareness about the genocide and engage people, citizens, organizations and members of government, in working to stop it.

Surprising nearly everyone (and likely some in the administration), Secretary Kerry came out a day later and publicly declared that what’s happening in the Middle East is, indeed, genocide.

“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslim minorities, and others, including Sunni Muslim communities who have suffered grievous harm, remain an essential part of the Middle East’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.

Or so it seemed in the moment. Scholar George Weigel puts framework around the picture.

The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father (Douglas) Bazi (persecuted victim of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil) looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared.

At minimum, passing the resolution and making the declaration would do that. But for crying out loud, it had to have carried some more weight in terms of aid, relief, action of some sort, one could reasonably expect.

One would have been heartbroken to have heard Nina Shea respond to that question on my radio program Monday that no, it had not changed anything. In fact, she said, on his visit two weeks ago to Baghdad, Sec. Kerry did not bring it up.

Why the silence? What difference, after all, did it make to declare that genocide was happening to populations of people at this time, this very moment?

…according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.

“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.

“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said…

“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps.

Nina Shea told me on radio Monday that there’s been a “reckless disregard” for Christians in the UN refugee camps, who have been camping out near churches still remaining, for shelter against the ongoing persecution even in those camps.

This is unacceptable. If the government won’t act, the people who put them in office have to call them out on this humanitarian crisis. And meanwhile, do something else. Contact IDF, KofC, CNEWA, Aid to the Church in Need, Restore Ninevah Now, and Iraqi Christian Relief Council, among others, and let those in the path of genocide know help is on the way.

Mother Angelica, never at a loss

She has a way.

Using the present tense for the nun who has passed into eternal life seems only fitting. Because she’s present on decades of air waves that continue to broadcast her shows in daily programming on the television and radio network she founded, she’s in booklets she wrote, long scattered across the world and now in the hands of people ‘in the desert, on mountains, in valleys’, as she once described her desire to reach people, ‘ to give courage, hope, strength’. And her voice is always resonating with the simple message at the center of everything she taught and said before rendered silent by debilitating strokes, and afterward in the witness of her constant suffering: ‘Jesus. Loves. You.’

Mother Angelica founded a monastery in the deep South decades ago out of great concern and reparation for the injustices carried out there through slavery, then segregation, discrimination and racial inequality, all of which she followed intently from her home in Ohio. It was the fulfillment of a promise to God for healing of an impairment, and both happened. From its very small and humble beginnings, the place was destined for big things, because the nun who ran it was a force of nature who wouldn’t be stopped from telling people in the world ‘Jesus. Loves. You.’ When network television aired a religiously themed program that corrupted the truth of the gospel, Mother Angelica decided to start her own. Construction workers building a garage for the nuns were tasked with turning it into a makeshift studio, get and set up some cameras and broadcast equipment, and beam a signal to carry the Eternal Word Television Network to whomever it would reach.

It reached me many years later, as I’ve shared here. As a woman broadcaster, I’m thankful to have watched and listened to her for so many years, seeing a woman of faith and conviction go live on the air with the ease of talking with the person in front of her about life and it’s ups and downs, faith fully authentic and alive and shared with what she never thought was courage because it came so naturally and from a deep place in her heart. She was truly Mother.

And she captivated people who knew nothing of the Catholic Church and probably didn’t want to, who happened onto her show by switching channels or tuning the dial, and something caught their attention there. That happened to people who were addicted to alcohol, porn, drugs, destructive behaviors, who stayed with Mother Angelica for the duration, and found healing. People who were lonely and abandoned, suicidal, happened upon her at just the right time to save their lives, and heal their hearts.

She talked about Jesus all the time, but in compelling and endlessly varied ways. The New York Times noted that Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said “she succeeded at a task the nation’s bishops themselves couldn’t achieve.” It cited a Time Magazine profile calling her “arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America.” Fr. Mitch Pacwa, one of the longest running hosts of programming on EWTN and the one who took over Mother’s show when a debilitating stroke finally ended her ability to speak, called her A Strong Woman in Love with Jesus.

The network has long aired the classic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen series Life is Worth Living, as relevant now as ever. Bishop Robert Barron, whom many consider to be the ‘modern day Fulton Sheen’, founder of Word On Fire ministry and the host of the magnificent Catholicism series, simply and eloquently said this:

Against all odds and expectations, she created an evangelical vehicle without equal in the history of the Catholic Church. Starting from, quite literally, a garage in Alabama, EWTN now reaches 230 million homes in over 140 countries around the world. With the possible exception of John Paul II himself, she was the most watched and most effective Catholic evangelizer of the last fifty years.

But he acknowledged as well her scruffy ways, for which she was well known.

Mother Angelica wasn’t perfect—and she would be the first to admit it. Due to her lack of polish and advanced theological education, she sometimes said things that were insufficiently nuanced and balanced. And her hot temper, which gave fire to her evangelization, also at times led her to indulge in ad hominem attacks and unfair characterizations of her opponents’ positions. But these are quibbles.

Bishop Barron focused on

her instinct for the supernatural dimension of Christianity. Now I realize that such an instinct might seem rather obvious, but in the immediately post-conciliar years there was indeed a tendency to naturalize the supernatural, to reduce Christianity to the works of social justice and the cultivation of psychological well-being. Mother knew that a de-supernaturalized Christianity would in short order lose its soul and, paradoxically, its relevance to the world.

Tributes and memorials will continue to pour in from around the world, as Mother Angelica reached into the living rooms, on the dials and online in homes in the farthest flung places on the global Catholic network in many languages. She is laid to rest at the monastery she founded, this Friday. But she remains, with her way of challenging and encouraging modern culture to recognize the truth of human dignity, and the ever present love of God. Because she found a way to grow the EWTN media empire in the news world and geographical world, her voice will remain as long as signals will be broadcast, to do what Pope Francis so often encourages, to go out to the existential peripheries and create a culture of encounter.

Supreme Court surprise move in Little Sisters case

Justices want more information.

Coming less than one week after hearing the Little Sisters of the Poor case the U.S. Supreme Court took the unusual step

of asking for additional information, telling both sides to discuss alternative ways to avoid forcing religious women to provide services against their faith.
“This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters’ religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals.”

As one journalist who has covered this story since the government issued the HHS mandate in January 2012, and the lawsuits against it that started coming within days or weeks, this threw me (and surprised a lot of court watchers and litigants involved in these cases). Because we’ve had over four years of dozens upon dozens of lawsuits in different courts at different levels making the case and elaborating the details abundantly clearly, that there are alternatives already in place and working to carry out the government birth control delivery scheme (such as government run programs themselves) while exempting major corporations and essentially one-third of Americans from this mandate already (info central has it all here).

But okay, this is good news, reflecting that justices aren’t buying the government’s claim that it already made an “accommodation” for the Little Sisters by having them sign a paper saying they object, but then explicitly granting a third party to provide the drugs and services to which they object in the first place.

Justices deliberating over this case must have finally seen through that smoke screen, because this request for new alternatives suggests a rejection of what the government claimed was an alternative, a false accommodation that wasn’t.

It’s a positive development, claims NRO.

Specifically, the Court wants to know if there are alternative means of providing contraceptives to employees without requiring the Little Sisters to participate in the process:

(snip from the court order):

“For example, the parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds. Petitioners would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees. At the same time, petitioners’ insurance company—aware that petitioners are not providing certain contraceptive coverage on religious grounds—would separately notify petitioners’ employees that the insurance company will provide cost-free contraceptive coverage, and that such coverage is not paid for by petitioners and is not provided through petitioners’ health plan.” (emphasis added)

Before this order came out Tuesday, the court was already pretty much split 4-4 over the religious liberty test involved in the HHS mandate, and especially how it upheld (or didn’t) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Justice Scalia’s untimely death impacts this decision most notably. But Justice Breyer struck some in the courtroom as unconvinced by the government’s arguments last week. If just one justice joins the four expected to uphold religious freedom rights violated by the HHS mandate, it could finally end this unbelievable saga of government infringement on one of the most basic, fundamental and cherished freedoms we have.

U.S. House of Representatives, State Dept. acknowledge genocide

Finally. This is a big deal.

After long, concerted efforts by individuals in Congress, human rights experts, humanitarian relief organizations, patriarchs and prelates, clergy and coalitions of citizens united with them, the U.S. made major advances this week toward stopping the atrocities ISIS has been committing against Christians and other religious minorities and getting aid and relief to those victims. The trigger to ratchet up new and urgent actions was twofold: passage of the Genocide Resolution in Congress, and acknowledgement by the State Department that what has been called persecution of Christians and other religious minorities actually constituted genocide.

Monday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Genocide Resolution, 393-0.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today made the following statement after the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed his genocide resolution with a vote of 393-0. In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

Wednesday the 16th, Cong. Fortenberry spoke with me on radio about this vote, and the news he had just received that Secretary of State John Kerry would need more time to investigate the evidence, mystifying to those of us who knew that a joint effort by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus produced a nearly 300 page report specifically for Sec. Kerry and the State Dept. detailing that evidence. Outcries followed.

Hudson Institute’s renowned religious freedom activist Nina Shea published more questions about why it was taking State so long to deliberate something so obvious to all.

So did social commentator and author Kirsten Powers, in this USA Today piece.

ABC News reported that the House “overwhelmingly approved” the genocide resolution with “heavy bipartisan support”, but also that “the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday’s deadline.”

And then, he did. Something happened to inspire or compel Secretary Kerry to make a surprise public announcement, Thursday morning.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that ISIS has been committing genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East — just the second time the executive branch has used the term in relation to an ongoing conflict.

The formal designation comes days after the House passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.

“Daesh is genocidal by self proclamation, by ideology and by actions,” Kerry said in a televised address, using another name for the Sunni militant group [ISIS]. “We must recognize what Daesh is doing to its victims.”

“Naming these crimes is important but what is essential is to stop them,” he added.

Nina Shea discussed Kerry’s surprise announcement with me on radio Thursday, and the great need for this designation because of the scope of the atrocities. About an hour later, she posted this article giving credit and gratitude where it’s due.

History was made today. Secretary of State John Kerry officially recognized that ISIS is waging genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites in the areas under its control. This is only the second time the U.S. government has condemned an ongoing genocide: In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated what was going in Darfur as genocide. And today’s declaration, as I wrote yesterday, almost didn’t happen — owing to resistance from some quarters.

Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline. But at 9 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”

This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.

Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”

Congressman Fortenberry told me what he’s been saying to everyone listening lately, that this is a threat to civilization itself. As of today, the U.S. has risen to join a growing international coalition of voices and forces that can, finally, do something to stop the spread of that threat, reverse it, and protect innocent people and the existence of whole populations. What can be done is newly on the table. What will be done comes next.

The family synod of Pope Francis

How to summarize?

Here is the essence in short.

This WaPo article captures what much of the secular and even a fair number of Catholic media are saying.

“Yet the still-significant opposition in the synod to rapid changes in rules also suggested how far off Catholics may yet be from seeing Francis’s revolutionary style turned into practice.”

And this short Word On Fire video of Bishop Robert Barron captures what most of them got wrong.

Bishop Barron explains.

I can confidently tell you that the news media are in love with the Vicar of Christ. Time and again, commentators, pundits, anchorpersons, and editorialists opined that Pope Francis is the bomb. They approved, of course, of his gentle way with those suffering from disabilities and his proclivity to kiss babies, but their approbation was most often awakened by this Pope’s “merciful” and “inclusive” approach, his willingness to reach out to those on the margins. More often than not, they characterized this tenderness as a welcome contrast to the more rigid and dogmatic style of Benedict XVI. Often, I heard words such as “revolutionary” and “game-changing” in regard to Pope Francis, and one commentator sighed that she couldn’t imagine going back to the Church as it was before the current pontiff.

Well, I love Pope Francis too, and I certainly appreciate the novelty of his approach and his deft manner of breathing life into the Church…But I balk at the suggestion that the new Pope represents a revolution or that he is dramatically turning away from the example of his immediate predecessors. And I strenuously deny that he is nothing but a soft-hearted powder-puff, indifferent to sin.

A good deal of the confusion stems from a misinterpretation of Francis’s stress on mercy…Now this is important, for many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer matters. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness. Or to shift to one of the Pope’s favorite metaphors, it is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires, not minor treatment, but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield.

Pope Francis has often used the terminology of the Church as ‘field hospital’. Barron’s explanation of what that means is very timely.

Genocide Resolution needs congressional attention

Signatures. It needs signatures on the bottom line.

It’s more than words on paper, but let’s start with the words.

Members of Congress introduced a resolution on Thursday to label the atrocities committed by the Islamic State against Christians and other religious minorities “genocide.”

“Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide,” stated Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who helped introduce the resolution. Fortenberry is co-chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

“The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands,” he continued.

Six representatives — three Democrats and three Republicans — introduced the bipartisan resolution. On Thursday, advocates with the non-partisan group In Defense of Christians met with more than 250 congressional offices, asking them to support the resolution.

Quoting from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the document states that the atrocities committed against Christians and the other religious minorities in the Middle East meet the convention’s definition of genocide.

That’s hugely important, say experts I’ve spoken with on this particular topic on radio in the past month. Call it what it is, name it, and especially declare that it is genocide, says Princeton Professor Robert George, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. And Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. And Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus and author of this Resolution.

The resolution also called for governments to stop the atrocities and for U.N. member states to sign on to a “concurrent resolution” and “with an urgent appeal to the Arab states that wish to uphold religious freedom, tolerance and justice.” The parties must also help set up “domestic, regional and international tribunals to punish those responsible for the ongoing crimes.”

Skeptics who think Congress pushes a lot of paper and gets little done should pay attention to this. It carries weight, and can have an impact.

USCIRF Chief Robert George told me this will task Congress with a different mission, once the language of ‘genocide’ is used officially. Renowned international human rights advocate Dr. Thomas Farr told me that passing a resolution in Congress requires action by the U.S. government, “by treaty and by law”. It “creates a gateway” for the United States to provide humanitarian aid, protection and faster refugee processing for victims of the atrocities, calling them what they are, ‘crimes against humanity’, said Cong. Fortenberry, one of the leaders helping In Defense of Christians expand and extend the campaign of awareness and relief in a network of global advocacy and activism.

Along with human rights hero Congressman Frank Wolf, Dr. Farr has long passionately worked for religious freedom and protection of minorities from persecution and now, genocide. Here’s the letter both collaborated on to ask President Obama to call what is happening what it is, genocide.

We write as an informal and diverse group of non-governmental organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates to express our grave concern for religious minorities, among them Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, at the hands of the Islamic State. We urge you to formally declare the systematic destruction of these ancient communities a genocide.

Mounting evidence indisputably shows the Islamic State’s ongoing genocidal campaign in the Middle East through its attempts to create a global caliphate devoid of religious freedom and diversity. For more than a year, the news headlines have been replete with stories of almost unimaginable human suffering caused by the Islamic State. Religious minorities in these lands, among them the ancient Christian, Yezidi and Shia Muslim communities, have suffered grave injustices: displacement, forced conversion, kidnapping, rape and death…

A report released in March from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” Furthermore, the report calls for the Security Council “to remain seized of and address, in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide.” It is imperative that the United States government and the global community universally acknowledge this issue as such.

As opposed to previous such instances in modern history, there has been no attempt by the Islamic State to conceal its actions. On the contrary, the group shamelessly broadcasts decapitations, crucifixions, forced drownings and other horrors with the sole purpose of spreading its message of destruction and recruiting more agents to the ranks of its diabolical insurgency. Under the Islamic State, religious minorities now face an existential crisis and live on the edge of extinction in the lands that many have inhabited since antiquity. These communities will continue on a trajectory of tragic and precipitous decline into eventual non existence without swift moral leadership on behalf of the administration and the international community.

(Emphasis added.)

It is our belief that officially declaring and subsequently halting this genocide and its spread is a matter of vital moral and strategic importance for the United States, the international community, and the overall state of religious freedom around the world. Perhaps equally as important, such a declaration will give a stronger voice to the long suffering victims while furthering and sharpening ideological engagement against those currently at the forefront of this campaign.

We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished and that the religious freedom and human dignity of all people currently suffering under the Islamic State are allowed to flourish.

Meanwhile

The Islamist genocide — and there can be no doubt that it is genocide, despite world silence – of the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other defenseless ethno-religious minorities of Syria and Iraq continues. The killing of these peoples is deliberate and brutal and is rooted in religious hatred of the “infidel.” It is meted out in sudden violent executions, mass deportations, and the gradual, methodical destruction of their civilizations. Washington is blind to this genocide that occurs alongside, but is separate from, a sectarian Muslim power struggle. It has failed to defend them militarily. Now it is failing to provide humanitarian help in the only manner left: resettling the survivors out of harm’s way, in countries where they will be able to rebuild their families and preserve their unique ancient cultures without fear. Rescue is the very minimum we can do to help these victims of genocide.

Read it and weep.

Nina Shea concludes, for now, with this:

Dakhil says the Yazidis feel abandoned by Washington and the world. Iraqi Christian and Mandean representatives have recently said the same to me. Many of these peoples are desperate to leave the region. They do not want to leave to seek economic opportunities, or even to escape the wartime deprivations, but to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are not being targeted because they are political dissidents or bear arms in conflict. They are targeted solely for religious reasons. This is genocide and we are morally and legally bound to help them. A military resolution to this crisis will be too late for these peoples. Catholic priest Father Douglas Bazi, the director of the renowned Mar Elias refugee encampment for Iraqi Christians in Erbil, tells me: “Help us live. Help us leave.” They need visas. The West can easily provide them, and it must.

While we wait for the US president to respond, the UK Prime Minister got engaged.

David Cameron has given his support to a new report into the persecution of Christians around the world.

In a statement read out at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2013-15? at the House of Lords today, the Prime Minister said that, “Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”

“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.

“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”

According to the report, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq “possibly within five years” unless the international community offer substantial assistance to the persecuted faithful there.

This is a global alert.

The report features a foreword by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, whose city has been destroyed by fighting.

In it he wrote: “My own cathedral has been bombed six times and is now unusable. My home has also been hit more than 10 times. We are facing the rage of an extremist jihad; we may disappear soon. In both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities – along with other vulnerable minorities – are defenceless against assaults by Daesh (ISIS). We are the prime target of the so-called caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign.”

This isn’t another news story to shake our heads at and say ‘that’s too bad, someone ought to do something.’ This is a coalition of international leaders trying to do something.

Recently, the In Defense of Christians (IDC) organization presented Dr. Thomas Farr with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in human rights. Two international leading officials of IDC presented Dr. Farr with a crucifix from a church in Mosul, Iraq to be held in safe-keeping until it could be returned upon the restoration of Christianity in the region.

I only learned that after he last spoke with me, recently, on radio. It gave even more gravity to his urgent appeal for citizens in the US to call on their Members of Congress, the men and women people elected to serve there, to support two pieces of urgent legislation in the House of Representatives.

H.R. 1150:

…amending the International Religious Freedom Act to give Ambassador Saperstein the status that other ambassadors at large at the Department of State enjoy, the authority to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy. It would also mandate training for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors. This training would ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy. (emphasis added)

And H.R 75 (down the list of ‘Whereas’ specifications):

Whereas, on July 10, 2015, Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, declared that Middle Eastern Christians are facing genocide, a reality that must be ‘‘denounced’’ and that ‘‘In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocideand I stress the word genocide—is taking place, and it must end.’’ (emphasis added)

The people are calling on government, purported and in fact elected to be the leaders of the free world, to DO something, for crying out loud.

And if they lack ideas, many suggestions are contained therein.

CNN’s love affair with Francis: “The People’s Pope”

The network stood out for its sheer time spent on Papal events, and effusive coverage of the man in white.

Religion editor Daniel Burke’s How the Pope brought our messy multitude together illustrates. And brings the visit together, after all.

He introduced himself as a brother, a son of immigrants, a neighbor from beyond our southern border.

He wanted our politicians to remember the country’s founding principles, he said, and encourage them to protect our families and our earth from an uncertain future.

In a country where Christianity often comes wrapped in an American flag, he said that we are better when we work together, when we don’t set aside our differences but celebrate them — wherever we are from, whatever God we worship.

He wanted to meet us, finally, to look into our eyes and share our struggles.

Pope Francis did that everywhere he went. Unlike politicians, who work crowds with the handshakes, smiles and scanning glances over the landscape, the Pontiff took his time with people, made eye contact, saw the children and lit up, noticed the disabled first, stopped to oblige selfies and let people know he saw them, they were important, and he loved them.

And somehow, stayed on an amazing schedule, after three days in Cuba and two days of crisscrossing DC, from the halls of power to the shelter of the homeless.

From Washington, he flew to New York, where he hit the city’s cultural icons with the speed of a tourist on a tight budget and the stamina of a man 40 years younger.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Central Park. The United Nations. Madison Square Garden. Of them all, he seemed to have the most fun at a little school in Harlem.

(An exhausted journalist asked a papal aide about this boundless energy. It comes from outside, the aide admitted, from the people he meets and the God he worships.)

There are many links attached to each visit, many addresses and impromptu stops, large addresses and intimate expressions of love and support. They will continue to come out, for what they – and he – left us.

But this CNN piece pulls together some highlights that give a snapshot not only of a Papal visit that struck awe, but a global news network encounter left awestruck.

The families caring for sick children who needed a spiritual shot in the arm. The priests who wanted to see their humble Holy Father. The immigrants who hear echoes of their voice in his softly accented Spanish.

The Pope’s people.

After a summer of racial injustice and riots, a season of political scapegoating and talk of building walls, he came to build a bridge — to be a bridge.

And he was. For at least these six days, he brought our messy multitude together: singing, dancing, laughing, crying, hoping, praying.

What they may or may not realize, is that when they watched -were riveted on – Pope Francis, what they saw was the global Catholic Church.

The Francis Effect up close, in America

Elite media took to Pope Francis early and often, spinning him into a cultural icon of their making. Then they met him.

So many folks who sit in studios hosting shows named after them that deliver news analysis, or anchoring news shows that feature live reports and panel discussions, or in newsrooms typing out copy as they see fit in these times, take their impressions from other news sources, whether videos or transcripts or reports in other big media.

The week just ended gave them an encounter they weren’t fully prepared for, in spite of all the preparations.

I covered the visit of Pope Francis from a studio on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., gathering reporting as well from print and television sources to get the fuller picture of how this pope who has been featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone and Time Magazine and in dozens of other interviews and special features was actually being received live, in real time, in person.

It was amazing. I especially noticed how CNN’s coverage showed how awestruck Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon and Donna Brazile and others were over the Pontiff, attracted by his humility and openness and more effusive praise than could be counted in a busy week. They saw him up close, in DC, with the president and lawmakers and the poor and marginalized, with babies and children everywhere, teachers and parents and grandparents.

I have notes of reactions, overheard conversations, stories behind the stories, and hope to share them here this week. But after an astounding week of encounter with the real Francis and thus, the real Catholic Church, the enamored media and adoring public got this stemwinder from the Holy Father to cap the Festival of Families in Philadelphia. Go to about 2:09 into the video when Francis, newly energized by the events of the evening, goes completely off script.

No text copied here could do justice to seeing Francis say it, tell it, gesturing with his hands, cracking jokes as he talked about the headaches children can sometimes cause, trials when families fight and ‘plates fly’, and  “I won’t speak about mother-in-laws,” he said.

He rocked the house. He shook the country, certainly some, at least some, hard core, usually composed, media

More to come. Much more.

Cuba is not just a stopover for Pope Francis

He’s giving that island nation nearly as many days as his major visit to the US. Indicating how important all the flock are to this shepherd.

Heading off to Washington D.C. to cover the Papal visit to the U.S. from there, I have no time to round up many good links I’ve saved to articles and posts covering Pope Francis in Cuba. In due time.

But the best, in my humble opinion, is easily accessible in a few ways and places, mostly connected to British journalist, commentator and author Austen Ivereigh. Here’s one exception, a good post on Aleteia, of Pope Francis going off script to deliver what had been a prepared address.

Pope Francis had a prepared speech to give at the Celebration of Vespers with priests, religious and seminarians at the Cathedral of Havana Sunday evening. But after hearing introductory remarks by Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega and a religious sister, he decided to put it aside and speak extemporaneously

Cardinal Jaime [Ortega] spoke to us about poverty and Sister Yaileny spoke to us about the smallest, about the smallest. They are all children. I had a homily prepared to give now, based on the biblical texts, but when the prophets speak — and every priest is a prophet, all the baptized are prophets, every consecrated person is a prophet — we are going to pay attention to them. So I’m going to give the homily to Cardinal Jaime so that he sends it to you and publishes it and afterward you can meditate on it. And now let us talk a bit about what these two prophets said.

It occurred to Cardinal Jaime to speak a very uncomfortable word, extremely uncomfortable, that even goes against the cultural structure, so to speak, of the world. He said poverty. And he repeated it various times. I think that the Lord wanted us to hear it various times and to receive it in our hearts. The spirit of the world doesn’t know this word, doesn’t like it, hides it — not out of purity, but out of disdain.

Read his remarks. This is who Francis is. This is where the world will find him, encounter him, learn from him if people are open to what he says.

First, it helps to know who he is, and for that, Austen Ivereigh has given us the best (or certainly one of the very best) biographies, chronicles and profiles of this extraordinary successor of Peter. His book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope is an extensive, deeply informed account of the framework around this unlikely pope and his ambitious program of reform, and “how this radical pope came to be”, as the jacket cover correctly claims. It is compelling.

So is talking with Austen Ivereigh, which I did on radio last week from Havana, in anticipation of the Pope’s visit to Cuba, and again Monday, on the third day of events for Francis there, each with its own interesting facets. Monday’s conversation (9/21) with Austen was full, rich, engaging and compelling, as he covered the visit from beginning to the latest, fascinating encounter in Cuba Monday morning.

Here’s one of his articles to go with the conversations, better to add context to this pope and his journeys to address, says Austen Ivereigh, the soul of both nations, Cuba and America.

They aren’t that different. The countries and settings? Yes. The message Francis brings to both journeys? No.

Stay tuned.